Council chair: Law needs to be changed to fix flawed Waikiki Safe and Sound program

Council Chair Tommy Waters says the program is fundamentally flawed and that fixing it would require changing the law.
Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 3:29 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 6, 2023 at 6:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii News Now continues its investigation into a flawed city program that’s supposed to crack down on criminals in the state’s top tourist destination.

Critics complain there are no immediate consequences for repeat offenders caught violating Waikiki’s Safe and Sound program. Now, the district’s councilman is calling on the courts for help.

Council Chair Tommy Waters says the program is fundamentally flawed and that fixing it would require changing the law.

In the meantime, he’s hoping more judges will start to hand down harsher sentences.

“We learned through the process that it’s not working,” Waters said.

The councilman is now calling for changes to Waikiki Safe and Sound — a program that bans habitual offenders from returning to the tourist district for up to a year.

The way the program works, now geographic restrictions are tied to the offender’s probation.

Simply getting that information from the judiciary into HPD’s system can take weeks.

If an offender’s caught in violation, an officer can’t just make an arrest. Instead, they make a report. That paperwork is sent to the Prosecutor’s Office, who will typically ask for a revocation of probation. Once it’s granted, it’s uploaded into HPD’s system. Only then can officers take action.

Waters said, “The fact of the matter is fixing the geographic restriction problem is going to be cumbersome and time consuming.”

While elected officials attempt to change the law, the former trial attorney says, “Jail is probably the easiest, simplest way to get these offenders out of Waikiki.”

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, judges have issued a total of 116 geographic restrictions to 89 people since the program launched six months ago.

That’s because some defendants have multiple stay away orders.

Records show dozens of offenders keep returning to the tourist district to commit more crimes.

“Christopher Young is an example of somebody who just doesn’t get it,” said John Deutzman.

Court documents show a judge banned Young from returning to Waikiki in mid-January after hitting someone. Days later he was back, getting in more trouble, for hitting another person.

According to records, judges ordered Young to stay away from Waikiki four separate times in the past two months.

Each time he was arrested, he only served between three and five days in jail. All of his fines were waived.

Deutzman said, “The bottom line here, there has to be consequences.”

Waters agrees, “If you get one or two days in jail that’s not a deterrent at all.”

He’d like to see the courts start imposing maximum sentences: 30 days in jail for a petty misdemeanor.

“If the crime is a full misdemeanor the maximum penalty is six months in jail,” said Waters. “Until judges start imposing meaningful sentences, you’re going to have these repeat offenders coming back to Waikiki over and over again.”

HNN asked the Prosecutor’s Office to respond.

In a statement a spokesperson said, “Every case is different. Circumstances are different. Defendants have different histories. Therefore, every case needs to be evaluated separately. Repeat offenders should be treated as such. We are identifying and charging serial property offenders with Habitual Property Crime, a class C felony punishable by a mandatory year in jail and up to five years in prison.”

HNN also reached out to the Hawaii State Judiciary for a response.

A spokesperson said, “Judges treat each case and each person individually based on the facts and the law. Applying the same punishment regardless of the specific facts of each case and each individual defendant would be contrary to that principle.